Japanese Tsunami 2011

Local mother impressed by survivors' spirit after volunteering in Miyagi

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 March, 2012, 12:00am

Like millions of other people around the world, Hong Kong-based mother of six Naomi Toma was shocked by the disasters that hit Japan last March.

But the 43-year-old Japanese national did not stop there. In December, Toma flew with her husband and her children to coastal Miyagi prefecture to volunteer for relief efforts.

The family helped survivors, with Toma cooking for about 200 members of the tight-knit community forced to live in very close quarters.

Residents of the worst-hit areas had moved out of shelters but they still did not have official permission to rebuild their homes and so were living in temporary homes offered by the authorities.

Toma found the community as close as ever and a source of strength.

'I'm so impressed by the people there, seeing how positive they are. But I can also feel their frustration, that they've lost everything,' she said.

A year after the earthquake and tsunami, Toma and nine other mothers of children studying in Hong Kong have thrown themselves into organising a charity concert at the Hong Kong International School's Tai Tam campus today, with all proceeds going to a Japanese charity helping children orphaned by the disaster.

The concert will feature 100 students from the school and the Japanese International School. It is free, but concert-goers have the option of buying a HK$100 raffle ticket to benefit Ashinaga, a Japanese charity that supports children who have lost at least one of their parents.

A moment of silence will also be observed at the time the earthquake struck.

The concert starts at 1.30pm at the Hong Kong International School's upper primary gym in Tai Tam, and further details are available at

The efforts of the concert organisers and participants are a reminder that although the immediate crisis has receded in Japan, its people still need support.

About 200 Hongkongers will be doing their bit to help revive the battered economy - they arrive in the Miyagi capital Sendai today on five- and seven-day tours organised by EGL Tours.

National tourism data shows that 48,500 people from Hong Kong went to Japan in January, up 41 per cent compared with a year earlier, mainly because the Lunar New Year fell early this year.

But Travel Industry Council executive director Joseph Tung Yao-chung said the number of people on tour groups to Japan was still 20 per cent down from the same period in 2011. He said a full recovery for the industry would only come in summer.

Another lingering effect of the disasters is the psychological trauma. The Post Crisis Counselling Network, which has repeatedly sent counsellors to quake-hit areas in the past year, said that although many survivors were recovering, it was not the case for those who lived near the Fukushima nuclear plant.

'For them, the crisis hasn't gone yet. It's there. It's now,' network executive director Timothy To Wing-ching said. 'Some of them feel like it's the end of the world.'

Some reports suggest that in Minamisoma, Fukushima, two-thirds of the community's 76,000 residents had moved out since the quake, giving those left behind a painful sense of isolation. 'They feel people have left them. Some parents are sad because their children are not going back to see them, because of the nuclear risks,' To said.

He said it was important to have more counsellors go into the community to talk to the remaining residents, particularly because Japanese people tended to suppress their emotions. He encouraged Hongkongers to take the network's counselling courses and make the trip to the quake zone to help out.

The network is also planning a tour to the area for members of the public in August, he said.